You can be Brand New! – 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Sermon for 12/30/07

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NRSV)
Verse 17 – 17 What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! (NLT)
Becoming a Christian is supposed to make us new. No, it does make us new. In John 11, we read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead – not resurrection like Jesus experienced, where he went forward into eternal life – back into life. After Lazarus comes out of the tomb, Jesus turns to the gathered family and friends and says, “Unbind him and set him free!” You see, Lazarus still had the death clothes on him, even though he was alive! And, he needed the help of others to get out of them.
Within the Christian experience there exists a notion of the ‘already-not-yet.’ The Kingdom of God is here…. with in you…. at hand…. — but the Kingdom of God is yet to come. Eternal life is knowing the Father and the Son, his Christ — but eternal life is something we enter into after death. By faith we are freed from the power of sin — and yet sin still works around and in us. We are new creatures — and yet we still carry much of the old creatures on and around us.
And you know our answer? Shopping. How much easier it is to just go buy some new shoes, than to actually do the work of spiritual discipline, and to let go of our grudges and start forgiving and loving, and to cut ouselves and others some slack, and to live into the new life we have in Christ.
Galatians is a great letter where Paul writes about our struggle between the new life and the old. In one place he puts it this way “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (5:1) Here he is speaking specifically of slavery to the law, but its all connected, because the law is the way of serving God in the flesh, absent the power of the Holy Spirit from Christ.
I imagine an image, like the original Billy Joel video for “We didn’t start the Fire” – a fast running series of images from tv, movies, magazines, newspaper adds, store displays – images of stuff – and even places we go to consume experiences – places we go ‘to escape’. We want a new thing, a new experience, because we have a deep spiritual need to be new – at the deepest core of self we know we need this thing that Paul says is ours in Christ. I suspect it is a universal human need, though our consumer-driven society and economy simply feed it in a particular way. Non-consumer cultures likely address the need differently.
But lets return to the text. What does Paul say is ours to have – this ‘newness’? Reconciliation with God, with one another, and the ministry and work of leading others into this reconciliation. The root for ‘reconciliation’ is ‘council’ – An assembly of persons called together for consultation, deliberation, or discussion. (American Heritage Dictionary) Reconciliation is to gather back together or restore a togetherness that was, but has been interrupted, fractured, broken. It is to restore and make new – to return to a previous state of togetherness. Reconcile is also used in accounting – its the process of bringing two sets of numbers into agreement – for example reconciling the bank statement with the check register.
And in our relationship with God, we do not go back into a unity with God. But rather, we journey through our relationship with Christ forward into new life, into the resurrected life. Thru faith, Paul says, this is already accessible to us in this life.
I would argue that we avoid reconciliation with God and others because we realize it will cost us some of our old patterns of behaviour, and our old ways of thinking. The short fix and instant gratification comes in getting something new. It may be a new suit, a new ipod, a new car or house, or even a new spouse. What we have grows stale, and we finally realize it won’t really meet our need. So our solution is to go get a newer and shinier one, rather than stopping to realize that God alone can meet the need we have.
In Christ we are new! The journey of faith (sometimes called ‘sanctification‘), lived out in Christian community (where we are learning to be reconciled to one another) it a journey to be freed from the death clothes of our old life that still hang on us. They must not simply be cleaned and straightened and freshened with Fabreeze – they must be removed so that we can live into the new life Christ has given us – and be worthy witnesses to others of what He desires to give to them.

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